American-Made Solar Prize 2022 Semi-Finals Submission

April 2022

The American-Made Solar Prize is a multi-million-dollar prize designed to energize U.S. solar innovation through a series of contests and the development of a diverse and powerful support network that leverages national laboratories, energy incubators, and other resources across the country. The American-Made Solar Prize is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office and directed and administered by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.


[00:00:00] Eric Hafter: Today’s solar module frames look and function much like they did 30 years ago. Innovation has brought incredible performance improvements and cost reductions to almost every part of the solar module over the last 20 years. Everywhere, that is, except the frame. According to Bloomberg New Energy, the aluminum module frame is the most expensive non-silica part of the module bill of materials.

[00:00:22] And the cost problem has gotten worse over the last few months, with aluminum specifically going up by more than 40 percent. In addition to the lack of innovation and cost, the problems with aluminum module frames must be addressed include the environmental impact of these frames being made in China using coal energy.

[00:00:37] And the resulting supply chain challenges have become clear. The energy transition to renewables requires continued innovation and investment. This investment must also be made to rebuild and expand our domestic supply chains. How can we control our ability to accelerate our domestic energy transition and hedge the risk of supply chain disruptions when most of the modules and nearly all the module components installed in the U.S. are imported from halfway around the world? What happens when global investors get tough on greenhouse gas emissions and demand a low carbon alternative to aluminum frames for an energy source that’s considered clean and green. Origami Solar, a technology company with offices in California and Oregon, has the answer.

[00:01:15] Bringing together 80 plus years of solar industry experience along with state-of-the-art mechanical engineering, the team is pioneering a new approach to the module frame that takes advantage of the superior capabilities of steel shaped by precision roll forming. Origami has developed a patent pending steel module frame that functions better than aluminum, while cutting costs, and reducing GHG emissions by more than 85%.

[00:01:38] With the Origami frame, module suppliers can take advantage of a robust steel ecosystem to onshore domestic PV manufacturing here in the U.S. At last innovation has come to the solar module frame. Our novel design gives our frame high strength and stiffness while minimizing the amount of steel required.

[00:01:56] Samuel Truthseeker: The quality of the roll forming is superb, resulting in a frame wall that meets or exceeds my expectations from working with aluminum frame walls over the last 20 years. Our preliminary mechanical load testing has shown that the Origami 35 millimeter frame has equivalent performance characteristics to a standard 40 millimeter aluminum frame.

[00:02:15] This means that module manufacturers who adopt the Origami frame can provide a higher shipping density product without sacrificing strength or performance. Also, the assembly process for the Origami steel frame is the same as for aluminum frames, making the adoption a relatively simple and low impact manufacturing cutover.

[00:02:33] Eric Hafter: The advancement of steel anti-corrosion coatings has already made steel a common material across the solar value chain. Steel can also be painted before roll forming to allow modular manufacturers to customize the look of the frames, like the dominant black frames in the residential market. Modular manufacturers can easily integrate steel frames into existing production processes because our steel frames are compatible with all existing manufacturing, tooling, assembly, and mounting methods. The real difference maker, however, is the ability to use steel as an alternative to the aluminum PV supply chain, which is centralized in China. Ongoing frame production also protects manufacturers from geopolitical risks that are likely to continue disrupting international trade for the foreseeable future.

[00:03:12] Relying significantly on initial funding and support from the American Made Solar Prize, Origami Solar and one of our manufacturing supply partners have tooled up an automated roll forming line and delivered a pre-production run of proof-of-concept frames with high product accuracy and tolerances.

[00:03:28] Origami has also begun testing modules with our frames to UL and IEC standards. This testing will validate our modeling and rigorous finite element analysis. We will be reviewing final results in early April, but preliminary data shows that our frames are delivering superior results.

[00:03:46] Our first goal will be to supply the U.S. module manufacturing market, which produced 4 million modules in 2021. Origami’s knowledgeable and skillful leadership team, with decades of solar experience, has engaged a strong network of industry experts to examine pre-production frames and validate our market adoption assumptions. Origami has engaged with companies across the solar value chain, including module makers, racking and tracker suppliers, developers, and EPCs.

[00:04:14] Responses brought Origami great confidence in our plan to license our technology. Continued success in the American-Made Solar Competition will enable Origami to upgrade functional prototypes of the corner attachments on our frame, certify the upgraded modules, and install them at Sandia Laboratory’s Michigan Test Center to begin collecting field data.

[00:04:32] Our market engagement and preliminary technical data has given us the confidence that our frame will bring a new manufacturing industry to the U.S. while also demonstrating to the world a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by millions of metric tons per year.